That's snow-capped San Gorgonio at 11,503 feet in the background. Big Morongo is a desert oasis: "The Morongo Fault, running through the canyon, causes water from melting snow on the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains to form Big Morongo Creek. The creek intermittently rises to the surface for just three miles, between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, before it disappears underground again. The water percolates into the sandy soil as it crosses the Morongo Basin, but as it enters Big Morongo Canyon, it encounters "fault gouge" (pulverized rock), which forces it above ground, creating a unique desert wetland with a series of perennial springs. " [Source]
It's wonderful to visit a birding hot spot like Big Morongo — as they say, the worst day birding there is better than the best day working. I kid. Love my job, folks! Back when California schools had more money, I'd take students on field trips to Big Morongo and we'd hike all over. Mesquite Trail, Canyon Trail, Yucca Ridge Trail... You can imagine how quiet the bus was on the way home. Good times.
Saturday's field trip was short on students, but included some terrific birders and some monster camera lenses.
Then there was me. Red-tailed Hawk nest by your blogger:
And the same nest photographed a few days earlier, by a dude with much better gear and a good eye.
Summer Tanager, by yours truly:
Summer Tanager [misidentified] by the same fine photographer who snapped the Red-tail pre-fledglings. You get the idea.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is probably the best-known bird at Big Morongo, and I wouldn't dream of subjecting you to my Vermilion photos. Check these out instead. [Big Morongo birds in the third link.]
Here's what American White Pelicans look like when they're riding thermals and assuming different shapes. [They made a Pointer!] They were very, very high. Our field trip leader shot them with his monster lens and enlarged the photo on his computer at home and counted them: 963. Props to Doug, who tore his eyes from the steep trail and saw them first:
We also checked out a Long-eared Owl nest in a big cottonwood just outside the Preserve. There were four impossibly huge, downy chicks perched in the branches near the nest, and one dead vole hanging from a twig. Mom was glaring down at us, so we tiptoed off, but I got a photo:
Here's my list for the day, around and inside the Preserve:
American White Pelican
Also: complete solidarity with my brothers and sisters who marched for immigration reform on May 1. As long as our nation keeps waving giant neon Help Wanted signs at our southern border, there will be poor, desperate people willing to risk everything to come here. All the ass-hattery in Arizona won't change that. What will help is the reform of antiquated laws that are "unwieldy, cumbersome, and excessively complex," "obtuse, and, at times, unintelligible." [Related: "What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?" from Reason.]